The tour group were on a planned 47-day trip to explore the country, and comprised of 10 South Africans, nine British nationals and one Indian national, Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman said in a statement.
The tour “went horribly wrong” on Friday, when the group were arrested at Erdos airport, in Inner Mongolia, at 09:40 local time.
“No reasons were given for the arrest; cellphones were confiscated, there was no access to the embassies of origin nor to their families. They were detained without charge with no access to any communication nor to legal representation. ”
He said only on Sunday did the tour operator realise something was wrong, with news of the arrests only emerging after the operator went to Erdos.
‘Chinese finding reasons for arrests’
Family members of those in the tour party have not yet been contacted, with Chinese authorities reportedly attempting to find reasons for the arrests and detentions.
Sooliman said the Chinese linked some members of the tour group to a banned organisation, a terror group, and for watching propaganda videos in their hotel room.
“Ironically, one of the arrested is an MK veteran of the Luthuli detachment who spent 27 years in exile. Dirco [SA department of international relations and co-operation] was contacted on Sunday and immediately consular services were provided both in South Africa and China,” he said.
“A team from the South African Embassy and the British Embassy met with the Chinese Foreign Ministry officials this [Tuesday] morning.”
Chinese authorities have since agreed to release 11 of the tour party, but they will remain in detention without being charged until flights out of China could be found for them, Friday being the earliest.
Company CEO also one of those detained
“The other nine are being held without charge at a detention centre on the accusation that they were watching propaganda videos. They are 5 South Africans, 3 Britons and 1 Indian national,”
“The other nine are being held without charge at a detention centre on the accusation that they were watching propaganda videos. They are 5 South Africans, 3 Britons and 1 Indian national,” Sooliman said.
“Of the 5 South Africans being held, 3 (including the MK member) are direct relatives of Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom. Salim Aziz Joosub, Shameel’s brother, is CEO of Capital and Financial Brokers. ”
Sooliman said the families thanked the South African government for their “unwavering support and call upon the Chinese government to release the detainees immediately”.
“These individuals have no terror links, no criminal record in their country and include Dr Feroz Suliman, a general surgeon at Waterfall Hospital, and his wife, Dr Shehnaaz Mohamed, also a medical doctor.”
While the South Africans are locked in detention, the Chinese government is hosting Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who arrived in the country on Monday.
In a statement on Monday, the presidency said the deputy president is leading a South African government, business, and state-owned enterprises delegation on an official visit to the country, scheduled to end on Friday.